The Barrens [Blu-Ray]
Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman
It's almost worth listening to the commentary track included with the Blu-Ray of The Barrens just to find out if director Darren Lynn Bousman and cinematographer Joseph White intend to make all of their collaborations look like absolute garbage. Having also worked together on Repo! The Genetic Opera, Mother's Day and 11-11-11, their combined aesthetic, while ugly, might be best described as grainy, washed out chic, wherein the sludgy greyness of it all exacerbates the intended grittiness of each film. And while likely intentional, it does nothing to heighten sensations in the imperilled family thriller, The Barrens. Here, the gaudy lighting and confused colour palette frame the camping trip of married couple Richard (Stephen Moyer) and Cynthia Vineyard (Mia Kirshner). In an effort to regroup their family and bond Sadie (Allie MacDonald), Richard's daughter from his first marriage, with her long-time stepmom, Richard drags them out to the titular barrens to spread grandpa's ashes in a remote creek. Since the film opens with two random teenagers suffering a grisly fate in the woods, we can be certain that a fireside story about a Jersey Devil demon baby and a random, nasty, infected wound on Richard's right arm will lead to chaos and bloodshed, especially considering the roster of titles in Bousman's B-movie library. To be fair, this particular outing has more to do with family dynamics and issues of trust in close relationships than the inevitable horror and brutality sure to come in the third act. While tenuous and realized only with the broadest of human characteristics, the main actors do their best to interact on a level that transcends the oft-clumsy script, taking advantage of Bousman's limited vision beyond point-and-shoot indifference. It's just unfortunate that the script wasn't given more revision in the first place and that Bousman's sluggish, amateurish direction rests pathetically on the gauche, dingy aforementioned aesthetic. The entire thing is desultory in execution, lacking a single visual or thematic trajectory to drive the story forward or build tension. Resultantly, we're left with a group of actors trying their damnedest to elevate what looks and feels like a particularly shoddy student film.
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